Trust – we all agree it’s fundamental to any organization. Employees have to trust their bosses, managers have to trust their staff, customers have to trust the business. And it’s far easier said than done. How do you create a work environment that reinforces trust and builds the loyalty necessary for a strong, successful organization?
In the Harvard Business Review, Carolyn O’Hara lists trust-building behaviors:
- Get to know your employees and find common ground, to demonstrate that your goals align with their goals.
- Be truthful and transparent; when you trust your staff with information, they will trust you back.
- Take responsibility for the mistakes, and share in the credit for successes. Integrity reinforces trust.
- Show competence, update your skills, and when you don’t know something, seek out an expert. Your employees will trust in your authority, and your own competence will raise their competence levels.
Autonomy and empowerment also demonstrate your trust in your team. Giving employees a clearly-defined goal, then letting them decide how to achieve it within given parameters, shows that you trust them to get the job done. Your workplace policies, too, can underscore autonomy and empowerment. Flex hours and telecommuting say you have faith in your team’s decision-making for the good of the organization.
Trusting your employees to make their own decisions about when and where to work can present a challenge for facilities management, however. Businesses may find their offices half empty on many days, and they’re paying rent for an excess of space. Hoteling-style open office plans may “right-size” the space, but not allow enough sound control for collaborative meetings and conversations.
Solving the space utilization challenge is a golden opportunity to build trust. Marie Puybaraud, writing in Entrepreneur, recommends including staff in the design process. Not only will they feel trusted (and will trust you in return), but they will be very invested in the success of the design. With innovative products like adaptive furnishings and modular cabinetry, office space can be used with maximum flexibility. The ability to rearrange work areas on the fly increases workers’ autonomy, and the circle of trust gets stronger.
Forbes Magazine terms trust a critical success factor for businesses, “the fabric that holds everything together.” Shape your workplace to show you trust your team, and they will reward you with loyalty and dedication. Those are results you can trust.
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Businesses have bought in to the open office plan in a big way. It’s a definite money-saver, requiring 50%-75% fewer square feet per employee than enclosed offices or cubicles. And compared to “cubicle farms,” an open office is a visually welcoming environment that encourages communication and collaboration. Approximately 70% of American offices were open plan in 2017, according to The Chicago Tribune. The GSA, too, is strongly pitching open offices to federal agencies.
However, the open office plan is not one-size-fits-all, and a significant number of organizations are finding that open offices are creating more problems than they are solving. The Tribune report enumerates the problems created by open offices: distracting noise levels, reduced work-life balance, lack of privacy for everything from confidential emails to moments of personal stress. Some workers at prominent corporations, particularly highly-focused introverts, have threatened to quit when their workplace was redesigned in an open style.
Nevertheless, the positive aspects of the open office still make it very appealing to many organizations. In-demand younger professionals show a definite preference for open offices, and the cross-pollination between teams is an undeniable benefit, in addition to build-out and space utilization savings. Writing in the Harvard Business Review, organizational researchers Brandi Pearce and Pamela Hinds point to “place identity” as an essential component of a well-functioning open office plan. Place identity is similar to the notion of taking ownership of one’s work; the place where you work aligns with your perception that your work is meaningful and valuable, and a reflection of your best self.
To achieve place identity, Pearce and Hinds emphasize the need for leaders to be enthusiastic about the open office design, and to share the plan and the enthusiasm with their teams before any changes are made. Equally important: Employees are encouraged to adapt the space to their needs. Pearce and Hinds found that workers routinely rearranged their desks as their need for collaboration or privacy changed.
Rearranging work spaces on an ad hoc basis calls for highly adaptive furnishings. Designers are choosing furnishings with wheels for easy mobility, and hinged panels and tool-free set-up for quick reconfigurations. Manufacturer Swiftspace has led the way with its mobile reconfigurable workstations that morph from semi-private desks to collaborative conference tables and work benches. This kind of easy adaptivity and control over personal space is the essence of place identity.
Like so many things, the open office plan ceases to function well if taken to an extreme. No one wants to go back to cube farms, however. To find the right balance between enclosed spaces and open offices, enlist the expertise of a workspace strategy consultant and put place identity at the center of your office design decisions.
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